If you’re thinking about visiting Gwaii Haanas over the weekend, be forewarned-the required orientation may not be available.
It’s all because of strike action by unionised parks workers, who forced cancellation of one session in Queen Charlotte Friday morning. And while it’s not for sure that more will be cancelled, they could be. (For current information call 1-888-773-8888 or www.pc.gc.ca)
The employees, members of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) have been in a legal strike position since midnight Thursday, and so far have limited job action to two parks in eastern Canada, but the dispute is already having an impact here.
It forced the cancellation of Friday morning’s orientation session at the Queen Charlotte visitor centre, but Gwaii Haanas remains open, said Ernie Gladstone, Field Unit Superintendent. The orientations are essential for safety and will be conducted by designated staff excluded from striking, scheduled at the Sandspit visitor information centre and every evening in Queen Charlotte, according to Mr. Gladstone.
More disruptions-bigger ones-could be coming, if PSAC decides on a general strike, which could happen next week, possibly as early as Monday. Here on the islands, thirty-six of the forty-three Gwaii Haanas unionised employees could be off the job if that happens.
But on Friday, job action here was limited to a strategic strike involving two workers. Barb Wilson and Natalie Fournier of Gwaii Haanas distributed information on the streets of Queen Charlotte. “We wanted to have minimal impact on our employees. There’s lots of people who are working in town. System-wide it’s different from place to place,” said Ms Wilson.
Money is the main issue. The union says a 20-percent wage gap between operational workers and similar workers in the public and private sectors needs to be closed. Parks Canada has offered 4-percent. And there’s another gap, between workers in different regions, with rates differing by as much as 10-percent, according to PSAC.
Union and management met August 11 and 12 in a final attempt to resolve the year-long struggle for a new contract, but were unable to agree before Friday’s deadline.
“Parks Canada is deeply disappointed with the results of the negotiation sessions. We came to the table hoping that the union would adopt a more reasonable position,” said Gaby Fortin of Parks Canada.
The union says access to parks will not be disrupted immediately, but soon could be. “People can expect to see a withdrawal of service at national parks and historic sites in BC,” says PSAC’s Patty Ducharme. “At this point, the public will have access to all of the parks and historic sites. In fact it’s a good time to visit a national park, union members are not collecting fees and are simply waiving park visitors through the gates.”
The union is prepared to call a general strike, said Ms Ducharme, and more than 135,000 PSAC members employed by Ottawa and a couple of federal agencies could follow.
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